Continuing our series on local groups, Alan Chettle shares his experiences with us. Alan did his PhD in Manchester and has now gone back to Canada (where he’s spent most of his life) to take up an internship with the Graduate Student Ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Vancouver.
How did you get involved in ministry to Christian postgraduates?
The journey began in Manchester, where I started a group from scratch – recruiting friends from church, some of whom then started inviting other Christian postgrad students they knew. Up to 10 people were coming along weekly to have lunch, share scripture and pray with each other. Typically, we met for about an hour, sometimes running a bit longer when discussion was just that much fun.
Did you experience any difficulties?
This was the part of my week I looked forward to the most, but there were always some tensions. First, partially due to my also working on my Ph.D, I didn’t have enough time to offer proper leadership or mentorship to the younger students in the group. Mentorship happened organically as friendships were formed, but it was fairly unstructured.
Second, there wasn’t much space for training others up into leadership. I had to force the issue when I knew my time in Manchester was coming to an end.
Lastly, the group was very insular. It was a good place for us to grow, but we never transitioned to sharing the Gospel vision of transformation and renewal with others. Individually, we had moments of sharing Jesus with our colleagues, but never anything as a community. This partially may have been due to people already having a good church community, and so not always being proactive in getting stuck into each other’s lives. That being said, some members did enter into deep friendship with each other, and those are places where mutual encouragement did flourish.
How has your experience in Canada been so far?
My experience in Canada has a number of key differences. I’m not starting a group from scratch – I’m working with an experienced staff worker, who has been doing graduate student ministry for ten years. The group size is about the same, and our main meeting is on Tuesday evenings. We have dinner together and then a discussion. Our discussion topics have been wide ranging – some of the really fun topics this year have been looking at the fruit of the Spirit applied to academia, and the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12) as a model for a gifted community. To be truthful, all of those are a way of casting vision to our students of the cosmic transformation Jesus offers and how we live that out as a community. Repeating our vision for Christ redeeming the university helps it to become ingrained in the minds of our students.
Why is this vision important for Christian postgraduates?
One of the most prevalent issues we face is students buying into the idolisation of academic success, and believing in the scarcity of time, that they have to give all their time, energy and effort to get the fleeting dream dangled in front of them. Practically, this means they’re unwilling to make time for Bible study and meeting other Christian postgraduates, and also are scared to risk being known as a Christian. The growth edge for this group is learning a right balance between fellowship and academic study, which will influence how members spend their time and how much they are willing to risk in sharing the Gospel with their colleagues. One of the joys has been seeing how the group has chosen to become community together, and has done a great job of welcoming newcomers and visitors.
What do the Canadian and UK groups have in common?
I think the strongest commonality is the need to shift people’s perspective to a more communal approach to sharing the Gospel, and developing a high vision for the redemption of academia.
Thanks Alan! May God bless you during this year as an intern, and may others be blessed through you. If you’d like to know more about Alan’s time in Vancouver, you can follow him on his blog.